How many people go through their career with no real plan or ultimate career goal? The fact is that the majority do exactly that. Why?
Well partly, it’s because, despite the range of extremely useful help available to them, including everything from professional career coaches to friends and family (whose advice can be limited but nonetheless well-intended), it remains a subject that most people seem unwilling to tackle head on.
Setting a personal career plan can be hugely rewarding and, if carried out in manageable proportions (like periods of between one and five years), it can create the foundations of a long term, successful and ultimately rewarding career.
A classic interview question: “So tell me, what are your career ambitions?” Gulp. Not expecting, or even sure about, that one? Well you can take some small comfort in the fact that you’re certainly not alone.
But you might ask, “Why career planning at all?” Well there’s an obvious difference between a job and a career and whereas your primary focus might be on your current role, it can have the effect of stifling your hopes and ambitions – whatever they are. Being reactive rather than proactive, leaving your career to chance, and a vague hope that events will direct you to your dream job, is woolly at best. And one reason why so many people fail to plan is often that they’ve never discussed their options fully with anyone; nobody to ‘bounce ideas off’. Result? Nothing.
Long-term plans, rather like long-range weather forecasts, depend on several variables doing as expected (or hoped). However, a 1 to 5-year plan can help to set out in clear terms what are your goals and, important, what’s realistically possible. “Yup – I can go for that.” However, to start this process of self-motivation, it would help initially to seek the counsel of others, whether they’re family (partner?), close friends or even trusted colleagues.
However, an ideal person to take into your confidence is your boss. They can provide the encouragement and often useful guidance as they will, almost always, want to help you as much as they can. They will also be able to monitor your progress constantly and, once a local ‘team spirit’ evolves, this can be of great benefit. There will be many people who will rush to offer well-meant advice on this subject but, while (objectively) engaging the help of others, you must remember that this is now all about you.
Start with a thorough self-assessment of your skills, your achievements, your interests, likes/dislikes, your values, your ultimate ambition. Create these four steps:
- Set your small goal. (Consider what you want to achieve by writing this plan and write down your ultimate goal.)
- Set your larger goals (the ‘bite-sized chunks’ or achievable stepping-stones).
- Make your goals time-bound (creating a target for three months which you should, with effort, attain within one tends to dilute the motivation).
- Make them realistic*
*Career planning involves the setting of realistic goals – a defined journey with an ultimate destination in sight, but with staging posts along the way. To use sport as an example, people can create their own personal targets (times/weights the gym, reducing a golf handicap, running a marathon within a specified time), none of which are likely to be achieved immediately but, by making each ‘staging post’ realistic, they do become gradually achievable.
Unlike sport, setting a 5-year career plan does not involve physical targets, but the ultimate sense of achievement when the plan is realised can be amazing.
And then you can set your plan for the next five years…
There can be no question that having a career plan is the best way to get ahead in your working life with both purpose and stability. However, creating and then sticking to that plan are the two most crucial aspects of it and you must be sure a) why you want to do it, b) what you want to gain from it personally. Once those two have been ticked off, you should be well on your way to achieving that ultimate ambition.
Keeping it simple by adopting a maximum 5-year plan means that you keep your goal (or series of goals) in sight and by taking those such as trusted colleagues and your boss into your confidence, they will offer guidance and help you to monitor your progress.
The rest is up to you, your resilience and determination.
- Accept the fact that creating a career plan is a good move
- Through self-assessment, establish your key skills, interests, achievements
- Take others into your confidence and benefit from their help and advice
- Consider consulting a professional career coach
- Make your overall plan a series of time-bound goals - which can be kept in sight
- Once you’ve reached a ‘staging post’, plan again…
- Achieve the ultimate career position (that you may have thought impossible)